By Jenna O’Donnell
OCEANPORT – A measure to allow residents to keep backyard chickens has some in the borough crying “fowl” ahead of a council meeting to decide on the matter next month.
Though Oceanport’s code does not presently allow for backyard chickens, support has grown from some in the community who believe that rule should be changed.
An ordinance amendment originally debated last year was introduced by a narrow margin in a split council vote during a March 16 meeting. That measure modifies an existing ordinance to allow residents to have as many as six hens, depending on lot size. Residents would also have to take a class in keeping chickens before picking up an annual $10 permit.
Advocates argue that chickens are charming pets that can help residents be more environmentally conscious, but opponents worry that chicken coops on small lots will create friction between neighbors.
“People are passionate about it,” said Councilman Joe Irace. “In all the years I’ve been on this council, this is the most I’ve heard from people on any issue.”
Irace was one of three Oceanport council members who voted against introducing the amendment, concerned that allowing chickens on small lots could cause potential problems between neighbors and raise enforcement issues for their small town.
Those reservations are shared by Mayor John “Jay” Coffey, who cast a tiebreaker vote in March to bring the chicken issue before the council for a full public discussion during the April 20 council meeting.
“I just want to have, once and for all, a full blown public discussion,” Coffey said. “This sounds great in theory, but I think this is something we don’t need from a headache standpoint.”
Part of the opposition to chickens stems from neighbors who have lived next to coops already in town and complained about noise and odor.
But supporters, including Councilwoman Ellynn Kahle, hope the ordinance amendment, by establishing rules and limitations for keeping chickens, will do more to prevent problems from arising than simply continuing to ban them.
A chicken advisory board is one aspect of the amended ordinance that Kahle hopes will help smooth things over for residents concerned about chicken-related issues.
“With the chicken ordinance there is going to be an advisory board there to help them,” Kahle said.
The proposed rules for chicken-keeping go further than any that govern cats and dogs in town to ensure that neighbors are considerate, Kahle notes.
Residents in favor of the amendment are counting on more than just fresh eggs. Shannon Scheffling, a resident who started the Oceanport Backyard Chicken Supporters Facebook Group, did chicken research as a student at Rutgers University. Even after they stop laying eggs, Scheffling says chickens provide chemical-free fertilizer for gardeners, are great for composting, and provide backyard pest control.
“Chickens eat grubs, ticks, fleas, termites and even mosquitos,” she said. “If it’s a bug you don’t want in your yard, chickens will eat it.”
Several area towns including Middletown, Red Bank, Fair Haven and Tinton Falls currently allow chickens on residential properties. Advocates like Gwenne Baile of Haddon Township help to create pilot programs in hopes of clearing up some misconceptions about backyard chickens, like noise and odor issues, which she says aren’t a problem so long as coops are cleaned and cared for properly.
“I truly believe that anyone who is opposed to this is not educated on what it means to have backyard chickens,” Baile said. “This is no more agriculture than you having a few vegetables growing in your backyard. They are pampered pets and they’re the only pet that can give you breakfast. But that’s not the only thing they can do.”
Residents are invited to share their views during a public discussion prior to the council’s vote at the April 20 borough council meeting.
“There’s going to be a discussion about it which I think is good,” Kahle said. “I just really hope that people haven’t already made up their minds.”
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